Over the next couple of months, I will probably mention the Eshel Parent Retreat a fair amount of times. I’m on the planning committee and I’m pretty focused on it so it would almost be wrong of me not to mention it here as often as possible.
The retreat this year falls out on Parshat Kedoshim. To translate, the retreat this year falls out on the week that we read Leviticus 18:22 as part of the weekly Torah portion. The week that, as Orthodox Jewish parents of LGBT people and as LGBT people, we often find ourselves either feeling very uncomfortable in shul, coming late, or not coming at all. I wrote about dealing with this Torah Reading last year and included a very beautiful article about it by (Eshel’s very own) Rabbi Steve Greenberg.
It’s actually a complete coincidence that the retreat falls out the week of Kedoshim. But when the organizers realized what week it is, we couldn’t help but feel that it was an amazing gift. Orthodox parents of LGBT children who are still very much involved in the Orthodox world struggle with this Torah portion every year (twice, in fact- during the shabbat that this Torah portion is read and again on Yom Kippur when it is read). Those of us who have made a conscious decision to accept our children no matter what but also remain committed to our Jewish community and life can’t pretend this Torah Portion doesn’t exist. We all deal with it in our own ways. Some by using the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, some by recognizing that we have 613 commandments and maybe we need to concentrate on the 612 other commandments before addressing this one, and some simply make a conscious decision NOT to think about it because they would prefer to put their children first. Unfortunately, this portion is often used as the basis for hatred, discrimination and non-inclusion of our children in the world they were brought up in and in my personal opinion, that is the hardest part about hearing it read out loud in shul.
When discussing that this parsha will be read the weekend of the Parent Retreat, the
planning committee got very excited. We began to talk about our feelings about being in shul when this parsha is read. One parent mentioned that he will be very happy not to have to deal with the “elephant in the shul” that week. We immediately jumped on to that concept because having an LGBT child in the Orthodox world often feels like a large elephant in the room- or shul, as it were. It is always present, but not always discussed and sometimes ignored by those around us. And we feel this acutely on Parshat Kedoshim when this Torah Portion is read. We decided to make a couple of ads using this concept to bring awareness of the parent retreat and our general feeling about having LGBT children in the Orthodox world.
I am so happy that I will get to spend this shabbat and Torah reading with other Orthodox parents of LGBT children. I think our discussions will have an extra meaning and the support we offer each other will be that much greater. The elephant will no doubt be in the shul with us that weekend, but it will probably be more visible than it has been in the past, and we will hopefully all be able to deal with it in a more productive way than ever before.